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US: Journalist 'likely' shot from Israeli position

July 4, 2022

A team of US forensic experts said gunfire from Israeli army positions was "likely responsible" for the death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, but there was "no reason to believe" shooting was intentional.

A protester holds a memorial sign depicting Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military operation in the West Bank
Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran correspondent with Al Jazeera, was shot and killed in May while covering an Israeli military operation in the West BankImage: Ilia Yefimovich/dpa/picture alliance Ilia Yefimovich/dpa

The bullet that killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was likely fired from an area where Israeli troops were positioned, but her shooting was not intentional, the US State Department said on Monday.

The statement came after a team of US forensic and ballistics experts examined the bullet, which was given to them by Palestinian officials. Abu Akleh was shot dead while covering an Israeli military operation in the Palestinian territories on May 11.

What did the US team conclude?

The team of independent experts, which was overseen by US security officials, "could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet" that killed the veteran correspondent, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

"Ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged, which prevented a clear conclusion," the statement added.

US security experts were also granted "full access" to investigations carried out by the Palestinian Authority as well as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

After analyzing and summarizing the two probes, US security officials concluded "that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh."

The State Department added that the team "found no reason to believe" that the shooting was intentional, but was rather "the result of tragic circumstances" during the Israeli military operation.

Doubts over US findings

Following the release of the US analysis, Abu Akleh's family sharply criticized the results of the probe, saying they were "incredulous" over the expert teams findings.

"With respect to today's announcement by the State Department — on July 4, no less — that a test of the spent round that killed Shireen Abu Akleh, an American citizen, was inconclusive as to the origin of the gun that fired it, we are incredulous," the Abu Akleh family said in a statement.

The family added that the US probe's finding that the shooting was not intentional "is frankly insulting to Shireen's memory."

An independent probe by the United Nations as well as investigations by several media outlets, including US broadcaster CNN, concluded that she was shot by Israeli forces in what appeared to be a targeted attack.

"We will continue to advocate for justice for Shireen, and to hold the Israeli military and government accountable, no matter the attempts to obfuscate the reality of what happened on May 11," the statement added.

Israel has repeatedly denied that the journalist was intentionally targeted by its soldiers. "The IDF investigation conclusively determined that no IDF soldier deliberately fired at Ms. Abu Akleh," the IDF said in a statement responding to the US investigation.

"Chief of the General Staff, LTG Aviv Kohavi, ordered to continue to examine and investigate the incident while using all available means, committed to transparency and seeking out the truth," it added.

Tensions and outrage over reporter's death

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist, was a longtime correspondent for the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera, and was renowned for her reporting in the Middle East.

Her death sparked outrage and condemnation as the journalist had been covering an Israeli military operation at a refugee camp in the city of Jenin in the Palestinian territories when she was killed on May 11.

She had also been wearing a protective helmet and vest with the word "PRESS" written on it. Her colleague Ali Sammoudi was also wounded.

The killing of Abu Akleh prompted controversy, with both Palestinian and Israeli authorities blaming each other for the shooting of the journalist. Eyewitnesses, including the journalist's crew, said Israeli troops were responsible for her death and that no Palestinian militants were in the immediate area where the shooting took place.

The IDF says the journalist was caught in the crossfire during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen. They had requested to examine the bullet, saying it would be crucial to determining which side fired the fatal shot. Palestinian officials repeatedly turned down the request, but handed the bullet over to US experts on Saturday.

Tensions heightened further when video footage of Israeli security forces attacking the pallbearers carrying Abu Akleh's coffin at her funeral went viral days after her death.

UN concludes Israeli forces fired fatal shot

Monday's analysis by US experts comes after an independent UN investigation reached a similar conclusion last month.

On June 26, the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said its independent investigation into the killing of the Abu Akleh found that it was the responsibility of Israeli forces.

"All information we have gathered — including official information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian Attorney-General — is consistent with the finding that the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities," the OHCHR said in a statement. 

The UN probe also found that "several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of Israeli Security Forces."

The results of the Washington-led probe come ahead of a planned visit to the region by US President Joe Biden.

rs/kb (AP, Reuters, AFP)